Establishing Structure without Crushing Childhood.  

January 2017  

In a previous post, I described Top 3 Reasons Warmth and Limits Matter in Parenting. This time, I am going to explore how to implement structure in a way that feels comfortable and satisfying.

Plan for Parenting With Intention

This is a big one.  This exercise won’t be completed quickly and without some serious contemplation. You (and your partner in parenting) should sit down and contemplate what key values and teachings you hope to impart upon your children. I know. That is a huge question, but I think that doing some heavy lifting on this question in advance will allow you to make more thoughtful decisions in the moment about how to react in different situations. Once you have some clarity on what you want to teach your children and what you want them to know as adults, you can establish a game plan for your limit setting. 

For example, if you aim to teach your children to be polite, courteous and grateful in the context of interpersonal interactions, you can first, model this for them in your own dealings with others, but second, you can calmly and consistently reinforce that value and message each time your child encounters a situation that calls for manners.

Follow-Through

Be consistent in your actions with your children. When you say you are going to do something, do it. This refers to all practical matters of scheduling, limit setting, and consequences, as well as the choices you model. For instance, if you say that you are going to take your children to the park today, you better be certain you are ready to commit to that statement. Sure, there are certainly situations when circumstances are out of your control (e.g., someone gets sick, a home appliance breaks, etc), but in general, you should do exactly as promised.

This is particularly important when it comes to limit setting and consequences. Thus, think carefully (back to the planning and parenting with intention discussion) before your offer up a potential consequence, because, gosh darn it, you better be prepared to implement it! I remember a lunch with a friend, her son and my son, who were both two-years-old at the time. My husband and I have high expectations and quite a few rules for restaurant behavior (children must stay in their seats during the meal, no yelling, and they are expected to participate in the conversation – no media screens). My son was getting impatient after the meal was over, squirming in his seat and scooting across the bench style seating. I gave him two or three verbal reminders, and I pulled out a potential consequence (we would leave the restaurant immediately) if he failed to comply with the limit. He bunny-hopped across the bench seat one more time, and my friend met my eyes with an understanding look, “Don’t you hate it when you have to follow through?” she said. Yes. Yes, I do, but I understand the importance of following through because my suggestions of potential consequences will be all the more powerful and compelling in the future because my son knows I mean business and will always follow-through.

Routine

A predictable schedule provides security and comfort to children. Any parent who has fielded questions from a child about a change in schedule the next day can relate to the discomfort a child feels when they don’t know exactly what to expect. Change and transition are hard for people, especially little people. They don’t have as much experience with encountering change, seeing that everything worked out fine, and knowing that they don’t need to wonder and worry about what comes next. Thus, consistent routine and schedule are reassuring and comfortable. This does not mean that you can never change your schedule or day. It means that children will generally do best when consistency is achieved; therefore, changes can be better accommodated and adjusted to when they are required. They have more reserves in their tank! Just make certain that you spend time with children in advance of the change to prepare them for what is to come. 


By Laura C. Kauffman, Ph.D.
Licensed Psychologist
Twitter